Ban Ki-moon - AP - 28.2.2011
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Photo by AP
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United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Saturday urged Turkey and Israel to mend their relationship for the good of the Middle East peace process after Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in the latest fallout over last year's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

In addition to expelling the envoy on Friday, Turkey also cut military ties over Israel's refusal to apologize for the raid, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, further straining a relationship that had been a cornerstone of regional stability.

The dramatic move came hours before the release of a UN report that called the May 31, 2010, Israeli raid "excessive and unreasonable." The UN panel also blamed Turkey and flotilla organizers for contributing to the deaths.

The UN secretary-general said Saturday that he has been trying to improve relations between Turkey and Israel since the attack.

"I sincerely hope that Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship," Ban told reporters at Parliament House during the first visit to Australia by a UN boss since Kofi Annan in 2000.

"Both countries are very important countries in the region and their improved relationship - normal relationship - will be very important in addressing all the situations in the Middle East, including the Middle East peace process," he said, referring to a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli peace pact.

The UN report said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legally imposed "as a legitimate security measure" to prevent weapons smuggling, but added that the killing of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American on one of the six ships in the flotilla was "unacceptable."

Israel insists its forces acted in self-defense and says there will be no apology. Israeli officials pointed out that the report does not demand an apology. Rather, it says "an appropriate statement of regret should be made by Israel in respect of the incident in light of its consequences."

Ban did not comment on the report's conclusions.

"I'm not in position to say any specific comments on the substance of the findings and recommendations of the panel's report," he said. "My only wish is that they should try to improve their relationship and do what they can to implement the recommendations and findings."